The Bowie State Bulldogs lost 41-17 to Valdosta State on Dec. 4. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mark F. Gray
Special to the AFRO

Bowie State football’s greatest season in school history ended on Dec. 4 with a lopsided loss to one of the nation’s elite Division II football programs in the quarterfinals of the national playoffs.

However, the 10th ranked Bulldogs’ 41-17 loss to No. 5 Valdosta State, deep in the heart of Georgia, is a reminder of how much closer the program is to making a deeper national championship with adequate support from the university.  BSU ended the season with a 12-2 record with their two losses coming versus Division I Delaware State and a national power at their level.

VSU opened a 14-0 lead over the Bulldogs – who were built on defense and ball control – in the first quarter.  Once BSU fell behind their season-long game plan changed and forced the offense outside it’s comfort zone and the onslaught began from there.  Two early touchdowns that were yielded by the Bulldogs’ vulnerable secondary opened the floodgates that would ultimately season their fate.

 The Blazers scored their first touchdown barely three minutes after kickoff on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Ivory Durham to Brian Saunds and they never trailed. VSU jumped out to a 14-0 lead over the Bulldogs  when Durham connected with Lio’undre Gallimore with a 39-yard strike  with 6:19 left in the quarter.

By then the game became an inevitability.

Bowie State’s defense took a beatdown the likes of which they hadn’t faced at any point this season. The Bulldogs were bludgeoned for 533-yards of total offense.  Their often porous secondary allowed Durham to pass for 348 yards and the run defense gave up another 185 on the ground. 

Meanwhile, the Valdosta State defense put the clamps on the BSU offense and never allowed them to get into a rhythm.  BSU was held to 221 yards of total offense with only 72 rushing yards.

Senior quarterback Ja’rome Johnson finished his Bowie State career by finishing 14-of-28 passing for 149-yards and two touchdowns while senior running back Calil Wilkins was held to a respectable 62-rushing yards on 15 carries. Senior Isaiah Rainey-Nix made only three catches for 50-yards and a touchdown as the final gun went off to close their careers.

They were manhandled by a team with a full complement of scholarship athletes, which allows a larger pool of players to recruit from while BSU is confined to seeking players mostly from Prince George’s County, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.  Nonetheless, it underscored the brilliance of head coach Damon Williams and his staff to turn the once moribound program into a national contender.

Wilson and his staff have done a masterful job with limited resources and their quest to ultimately take a commitment from Bowie State to finalize a stimulus package for the Bulldogs’ football program- two giant steps forward to win the national championship.

In a time where Historically Black Colleges and Universities are in the spotlight athletically, it would seem to be in the best interest of the program for BSU to make an athletic scholarship investment into the football program. The best recruiting tool for an entire university are consistent, compliant, contending, national championship-caliber athletic programs.  

College teams that win and play on national TV have greater general student body enrollments and do a better job at retaining students as well. BSU’s athletic department has done as much as it can with a shoestring budget to bring shine to the Prince George’s County campus with their football program.  

Now is the time for the administration to step up and be willing to step up and add some additional financial support to get over the hump that would be a big win for the entire university.

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